Fifteen minutes before this Wednesday’s deadline, Greg Gandrud, head of the Santa Barbara Republican Central Committee, filed ballot language in opposition to Measure S, the half-cent sales tax proposed by Sheriff Bill Brown — and endorsed by all five county supervisors — to build a new North County jail. In addition, the funds generated by the sales tax increase — $30 million for 14 years — would be spent running the jail, underwriting the costs of intervention and prevention programs designed to reduce criminal recidivism, and support local public safety agencies throughout the county. Also signing the opposition argument — which argues, “We’re taxed enough already” — are three North County business people not affiliated with the Republican Central Committee: Berto Van Veen, Bob Nelson, and David Stockdale. Stockdale, a Santa Maria insurance broker, ran in June for the Republican nomination for Congress, to run against Democratic incumbent Lois Capps, and lost.
Given that the proposed sales tax hike needs a two-thirds majority to pass, any opposition argument on the ballot could prove damaging. Having the local Republican Party signing the argument could give it substantially more impact. The Republican Central Committee held an ad hoc telephone meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss filing arguments against Measure S. The motion passed overwhelmingly, with only two members voting against. Sheriff Bill Brown and one of his campaign consultants, Lanny Ebenstein, had met prior with the Republican Central Committee to woo support for the jail tax. Brown reportedly had made several follow-up phone calls, but to no avail. Ebenstein, a well-known conservative activist with libertarian leanings, has been the voice of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association for the past several years. Ebenstein also writes editorials for the Santa Barbara News-Press.
The existing county jail is so overcrowded that it’s in violation of the law and has been for at least 20 years. Party chairman Greg Gandrud explained that he’s always supported the proposed new jail — for the past 20 years Santa Barbara judges have found the existing lockup legally inadequate — but he doesn’t believe county taxpayers should have to foot the bill. Gandrud said the county should have raised Santa Barbara’s $24 million share of the $80 million construction project — the other $56 million will be provided courtesy of state grants — by paying into an account over the past 20 years. “This is a failure of county leadership. Sheriff Brown says people will die if the jail is not built. If that’s the case, it’s the county that will have blood on its hands for its lack of leadership,” said Gandrud. He also suggested that if the supervisors and all county employees took a 10-percent pay cut, they’d raise more than the $24 million Brown says are needed.
Gandrud accused the sheriff of attempting to use taxpayers to generate a giant “slush fund” with which to buy political support for the proposed tax hike. If passed, Measure S would generate millions for intervention and prevention programs, which Brown has always argued were essential to any jail project. Only by breaking the cycle of recidivism, Brown has argued, can any facility hope to bring the number of people locked up to a manageable level. In addition, a portion of the funds generated by Measure S — $10 million a year — have been earmarked for every law enforcement agency. Fire departments would share as well, as would the county’s probation department. In addition, Measure S would cover the annual jail operating costs of $17 million. Gandrud said he would have supported a measure that limited the funds generated to just the cost of jail construction.
Politically, Gandrud is a singer without that big of a choir. A libertarian-minded Republican, Gandrud served one term on the Carpinteria City Council. He’s run for state assembly — without success — and this June lost in his bid to become the county’s next treasurer. But he never really fit in with fellow conservatives. Openly gay, Gandrud was active with the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay and lesbian conservatives. He’s also a vegan. On the Carpinteria Council, he and fellow conservative Joe Armendariz never got along. Gandrud claimed that Armendariz, a born-again Christian, disapproved that he was openly gay. On the record, Armendariz complained that Gandrud was a loose cannon. Armendariz, chief executive of the Santa Barbara Industrial Association, has endorsed Measure S and has been uncharacteristically effusive in his praise, calling it “almost perfect.” When asked what impact Gandrud’s opposition might have, Armendariz retorted, “Greg who?” Gandrud’s position within the Republican party, however, gives him a bigger microphone, and it’s endowed his opposition to Measure S with greater impact.
Signing arguments in favor of Measure S were all five county supervisors. Two of these — Joe Centeno and Joni Gray — are lifelong Republicans. Without the sales tax increase, they contend, the county’s existing jail will remain dangerously overcrowded, and prisoners will continue to be released early. Funds from Measure S would also help underwrite the costs of public safety at a time when the county is facing chronic multibillion-dollar budget woes.